More than 300 Penn State students and community members gathered at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center on Wednesday night for the organization’s final event of the semester, Black Lives Still Matter.
The evening kicked off with a speech from center Director Carlos Wiley.
Wiley quoted Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech, Where Do We Go From Here, saying, “In 2015 we cannot continue to ignore black people’s contribution to human life,” and that “we must stand up and say we are black, we are beautiful and that black lives still matter.”
State College Police Chief Tom King spoke at the event. King told the audience that in “the past 15-18 months, policing has entered a crossroads.” Elaborating, King told audience members that police “must be out and about in the community” hearing the “concerns” of their community members.
King addressed race and the Black Lives Matter movement, saying “virtually every riot has begun by some police action.”
King also said, “police have a culture,” and that it is “critical that the leader” of the police station “wants to help and serve the community regardless to race, sexual orientation” and treat “all people with humanity and dignity.”
When asked by a member of the audience how to ensure a shooting or police related incident like the ones observed at the national level never occurs here, King said, “I can’t promise that this won’t ever happen here,” but he can work to “establish and enforce a culture by hiring the right people.”
King said it’s important to find out why potential employees want to “carry a gun and a badge?” King asked, “do they want to drive fast cars and hold guns, or help people in need.” He concluded by stating that the process starts by “hiring the right people.”
Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham echoed King, saying it does start with the culture. He also said, “as an African American police officer, with three black teenage sons, I have many views.” Parham challenged those who question the Black Lives Matter movement to examine the “history and the context” of the movement.
Parham encouraged members of the State College community to “speak up about injustice,” saying there are “many positive ways to report.”
Parham told the audience, “Don’t be afraid to challenge us, make us do a good job. Make us do the right thing.”
Deray McKesson, activist for The Black Lives Movement told audience members that “people of color are always on the front lines of racism,” and that “if the police in St. Louis hadn’t killed 10 people since killing Mike Brown, I wouldn’t be here. There’s no glory in it. I want to go home. I’m not out there because I like getting pepper sprayed.”
McKesson also told audience members that “this idea that police should be everywhere with people of color, doesn’t make us feel safe. The police shouldn’t have to know my name not to kill me. The police shouldn’t know my name, play basketball with me and know I have a niece and nephew not to kill me.”
McKesson also discussed the All Lives Matter response to the Black Lives Matter movement saying, “If all lives mattered then Trayvon, Tamir and Sandra would still be alive, but they are not, so this notion of all lives mattering is really not true.”
McKesson’s points were met with many rounds of applause in a room filled with a diverse gathering of students and community members.
McKesson was asked by many audience members how they could help and the future framework of the Black Lives Movement, he contended that it’s important to “build a movement that matures with us as we mature.”
Wiley also answered this question in his remarks earlier in the evening, saying that, “we must keep moving forward, in order to change the future for the next generation” so “that in 48 years, the next leader of the Paul Robeson Center is not pleading for the same change.”
The night ended with Penn State’s Black Caucus, a student-run organization, leading a Sankofa — a word of the Twi Language of Ghana, meaning “go back and get it” — prayer. All members of the audience held hands and stated, “now, more than ever, all the brothers and the sisters of the world must come together. Common blood flows, through common veins, and common eyes all see the same. Now, now, now, more than ever, all the brothers and sisters, must come together, ashe, ashe, ashe.”